minds; big news. Check out the first five books in our
Top 10 Books in Positive Psychology - Part I
circa 2011. See the two must-read books for those new
to Positive Psychology and meet the best writer in psychology.
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2. MAIN ARTICLE:
Ben's Top 10 Books in Positive Psychology: Part I (2011)
few years ago, CTH published its first Top
10 List of Positive Psychology Books which
was widely reprinted and received a huge number of inbound links,
a CTH record at the time. Our Second Top
10 List is here.
what if you're new to the field?
question, the two best books for those new to Positive Psychology
are Marty Seligman's Authentic
Happiness and Chris Peterson's A
Primer in Positive Psychology. Marty's
Authentic Happiness has inspired readers across the world.
my first review, I've felt Chris'
Primer was a masterpiece. Every year
since 2006, it has been the best-selling textbook in Positive
Psychology. If you're a bright professional seeking traction
in this new field, I'd start with Authentic Happiness
and the Primer, hands down.
here's our Third Top 10 List. This is
Part I with the first 5 title and includes some cool books with
exciting ideas. And I'll start with one by the best writer
in psychology, Elliot Aronson.
Ben's Top 10 Books in Positive Psychology Circa 2011 —
by Chance Alone: My life as a Social Psychologist,
Back in 1971--while Ed Diener was a University of
Washington graduate student and Marty Seligman was focused on
learned helplessness—Elliot Aronson was a young, already
world renowned social psychologist.
he was asked to help the Austin, Texas school system deal with
an explosion of interracial violence, Elliot created one of
the most ingenious and powerful interventions in positive psychology
history. Meticulously researched, it came to be
known as the “Jigsaw
near perfect reliability, it creates a cooperative learning
technique that reduces racial conflict among school children,
promotes better learning, improves motivation, and makes school
more fun as well. (Compare that to the effects of a typical
positive psychology intervention.) It’s now used
in schools throughout the US and across the world. If
you yearn to make a difference in the world, learn
how you can help it spread.
is the best writer in psychology and it shows in the stories
that fill his memoir. There are a 1000 points I could
make about this beautiful book; here are just a few.
love the underdog
who triumphs against impossible odds. That’s
Elliot who grew up in extreme poverty in Revere, Massachusetts.
He was unbearably shy and did poorly in school. In
a pivotal meeting after his father died, his extended family
wanted him to forego college to support his widowed mother. That
seemed reasonable to Elliot, but his older brother, Jason,
said "Screw that! Elliot is going to college,
and...(we) can both work our way through school." To
see how well Elliot writes and to read the full story, click
worked his way through Brandeis
so short on money that he spent his sophomore year sleeping
in the backseats of cars, scrounging food from fellow students.
An economics major, he followed a girl into her classroom
only to hear Abraham Maslow lecturing on anti-Semitism. He
changed his major to psychology the next day
Maslow recognized Elliot’s promise. In fact,
Elliot was to be serially mentored by three of the top
15 psychologists of the 20th century:
Maslow at Brandeis (#10), David McClelland at Wesleyan (#15),
and Leon Festinger at Stanford (#5).
he had published seminal research, was a leader in the hottest
research area of his day (Cognitive Dissonance Theory),
had won the plum social psychology job in the country: teaching
at Harvard, and was happily married with children.
contribution is immense.
It's hard to exaggerate what Elliot has accomplished.
(And at 79, he's planning more books.) He and Marty
share the distinction of being among the 100
most eminent psychologists of the 20th
century. He is the only person in the 120-year history
of the American Psychological Association to have won all
three of its major awards: for writing, teaching, and research.
And starting with his first year in graduate school (using
an approach inspired by Gertrude Stein), he has continually
devised creative, elegant ways to research vitally important
the most graceful writer in psychology. Once
tasked to write a potentially dry and deadly chapter
on experimentation in social psychology,
produced what’s been called “a love poem to
social psychology” that has inspired thousands of
researchers. He wrote the Social
social psychology, using lucid prose, fascinating examples, and
vivid stories. It’s now in its eleventh
edition and, as the Wikipedia observes, “is arguably
psychology’s most engaging and enduring textbook.”
By Chance Alone is beautifully, seamlessly
written as well. Want a taste? Here’s
here’s the Introduction.
older brother, Jason, emerges as a wise mentor. We
learn from his lessons and Elliot’s own.
during a poker game, Elliot, 16, was bemoaning his poor
cards. Jason insisted that he must always play the
hand he was dealt without complaint. Anyone can play
a winning hand. It’s how you play the bad hand
that matters. Note.
exemplified this lesson
in his own life in the graceful, uncomplaining way he died
of cancer at 32. Now in his 70’s, Elliot is
dealing with unexpected blindness. He does this with
style and courage and continues to write books. His
new guide dog, Desilu, is below.
encounter movement. Outside
of his mainstream research, he was a leader in the encounter
movement. I once hitchhiked from Austin to Maine for
an intense, 2-week NTL
held with 37 participants at an isolated ski resort. Elliot
was the preternaturally gifted leader. I found it life
describes his most important research from the inside (This
is worth the price of the book alone.)
and the fascinating figures he encountered along the way:
not only Leon Festinger, but Stanley Milgram, Maurice Sendak,
Ram Dass and many more.
writes about his love of teaching. You
can get a feel for how good he is by listening to this fabulous
interview. Just click
Scientist and the Humanist, Marti Hope Gonzales
describes Elliotís brilliant teaching style here.
this is simply a great read.
As Harvard's Daniel Gilbert observes: It's "engaging and
Or as my favorite Amazon review of Elliot's memoir begins,
"Oh my--what a GLORIOUS book!" "
Positive Psychology: Taking Stock and Moving Forward,
edited by Ken
Kashdan, and Michael
love this book and, uncharacteristically for a scholarly, edited
work, have actually read all 31 chapters. The three editors
have pulled together the brightest minds in the field—Barbara
Fredrickson, Roy Baumeister, Bob Emmons, Shelly Gable, Anthony
Grant, Laura King and 61 more. The book is a feast.
to Ed Diener, one of the legends in the field: "This is
one of the most important books to appear in positive psychology...(If
you want) to be a master of the science of positive psychology
(you) must read it..."
Sonja Lyubomirsky of UC Riverside and author of The
How of Happiness, "I couldn't put this book
down! (It) offers an unparalleled glimpse into state-of-the-art
research, theory, and applications in positive psychology -
from past, present, and future. This fantastic book should
be required reading for anyone - researchers and laypeople alike
- interested in flourishing individuals, institutions, and societies."
A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being,
2007, I asked the famous Harvard psychologist, Dan Gilbert,
(Stumbling on Happiness) about Marty’s
three routes to happiness: positive emotion, engagement, and
meaning. He said he disagreed with the definition.
Engagement and meaning while valuable were simply not part of
the concept of happiness.
might not disagree. He says the title, Authentic
Happiness, was forced on him by his publisher. “I
actually detest the word happiness, which is so overused that
it has become almost meaningless”. He now believes
that “well-being”, not happiness, should be the
central focus of positive psychology.
In terms of well-being theory, the goal of positive psychology
is to increase the amount of flourishing in your own life and
in the lives of others. And flourishing’s five elements
(using the acronym, PERMA) are (1) Positive emotion (2) Engagement
(3) Meaning (4) Accomplishment, and (5) Positive Relationships.
It seems more than plausible to me to add the dimensions of
accomplishment and positive relationships to the mix.
Marty then goes on to offer practical exercises that can increase
What do I most like about this book? I have always loved
Marty’s stories, both in his teaching and in his books. And
Flourish does not disappoint.
For example, the story of the anonymous benefactor who wanted
to give him grant money: “So two weeks later, I found
myself at an unmarked door on the eighth floor of a small, grimy
office building…in Manhattan. I was ushered into
an undecorated, windowless room in which sat two gray-haired,
gray-suited men and one speakerphone...” Notably,
within two weeks Marty had received a check for $120,000.
Or his stories of graduate admissions at Penn. How he
was overruled in arguing to accept one of the first women to
win a major championship in poker. Then
the story of the incredibly gifted candidate, Angela
After quoting from her brilliant admissions essay, he says “I
have chosen not to exhume my essay for admission to Penn in
1964...and compare it to this one.”
Or Brigadier General Rhonda Cornum’s philosophy of life:
Finally Flourish provides a rich array
of content: GRIT
(the perseverance and passion for long-term goals); flourishing
exercises; Penn's Master's in Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP)
program; Positive Psychology and the Army; Positive Physical
Health, and much, much more. I like the book. I
think you should read it.
How We Can Reach Our Goals, by Heidi
Grant Halvorson. Forward by Carol Dweck
world is full of self-proclaimed goal setting experts.
If you Google “experts on goals”, you get 146 Million
hits. As a rule, these self-anointed experts don't have
a clue about the range and complexity of the research on motivation
and goals. They sometimes even serve up non-existent studies
(e.g., the famous "1954
Yale (or Harvard written goals study"). Unlike
the vast majority of “goals experts”, Heidi publishes
peer reviewed research on motivation and goals and knows the
leading researchers throughout the world. She co- edited
the academic handbook, The
Psychology of Goals (Guilford, 2009).
a forward by Carol Dweck that bears witness to her expertise,
How We Reach Our Goals, is lucid and eminently
practical. If you want new, research-based ideas, to support
you in your work with goals, this is your book. If you
want to present a new workshop with material people won’t
know about, it's right here. Heidi Grant Halvorson, PhD,
is an experimental social psychologist whose research has focused
on understanding how people respond to setbacks and challenges,
and how these responses are shaped by the kinds of goals they
is probably the most practical book on the list. I strongly
Power of Appreciative Inquiry: A Practical Guide to Positive
Change, by Diana
Whitney and Amanda
Trosten-Bloom. Foreword by David Cooperrider
you had taken any of Marty Seligman’s six-month Authentic
Happiness Coaching classes between 2003- and 2005, you would
not have known that Appreciative Inquiry existed. If you
had taken any of the Positive Psychology classes springing up
around the US back then (I can’t speak for international
classes), you would similarly never have heard it mentioned. That
is changing. The 2007 AI Conference included not just David
Cooperrider, but Marty Seligman and Marcus Buckingham.
book “describes a wildly popular approach to organizational
change that dramatically improves performance by encouraging
people to study, discuss, learn from, and build on what's working,
rather than simply trying to fix what's not.” There
are loads of examples from a wide range of organizations that
show what AI looks like in action.
love its approach of focusing on what’s working, identifying
unrealized strengths, rather than going immediately to what
is wrong. AI’s beginning in 1985 predates
the formal inception of positive psychology 13 years later. And
Whitney and Trosten-Bloom systematically describe the newest
approaches in AI that have developed over the last 5-10 years.
my perspective, rather than being ignored, Appreciative Inquiry
belongs within the sweet spot of applied positive psychology.
those new to AI, psychologist/coach Bob Siegfried - who teaches
our classes on Appreciative
Inquiry Coaching - particularly likes
Living: The Principles of Appreciative Inquiry in Personal Life
as a first read for professionals and The
Joy of Appreciative Living as a first
read for laypersons.
- 10. Remember, we've only covered the first five books
today. There are five more exceptional books to come in
our next issue.
his five-star Amazon review
of Elliot's book, Alan Gross includes a PS about Jason's poker
lesson: "One corollary to the poker/life lesson Elliot learned
from his brother Jason: Yes it's well not to blame the hand
and to play the dealt cards in the best possible manner; however
the best strategy for a poor hand is often not to play it
at all, instead opting to wait for a better deal." I think
Jason would have known this. Both Jason and Elliot were far
too wise to somehow fail to grasp that knowing when to fold
is a subset of the skill needed to play poor hands well--both
in poker and life.
Back to the top
— Ben, Editor of Coaching Toward Happiness, is a coach,
psychologist, founder of MentorCoach, and...MORE.